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W&M enrolls greater number of Pell-eligible students in Class of 2021

  • Closeup of sundial at Swem Library.
    Closeup of sundial at Swem Library.  William & Mary was recognized by the New York Times as being among the nation’s leading colleges and universities in commitment to access and affordability for low- and middle-income students, and the No. 1 public university in Virginia.  
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William & Mary saw a significant increase in the number of students eligible for Pell Grants in the Class of 2021.

The increase was reported to the Board of Visitors’ Academic Affairs Committee Thursday morning by Tim Wolfe, associate provost for enrollment and dean of admission, who characterized the increase as “one of the great successes” of the year.

Pell Grants are need-based, federal direct grants used to offset the costs of higher education and are one measure used informally to determine how effectively a school is serving a socio-economically diverse population.

This fall, William & Mary saw a 20 percent increase in Pell-eligible new students, both freshmen and transfers, as compared to last year, and a 30 percent increase compared to three years ago.

Looking at just the freshmen, 12 percent are eligible for the federal grants, up from 11 percent last year. The largest increase has been for in-state freshmen, of which 16 percent are eligible for Pell Grants, versus 14 percent last year.

“That’s something we’re very excited about,” Wolfe said, noting that the progress reflects several factors.

In admission and recruiting, he said, William & Mary has been working hard to make sure that high school counselors and families, particularly in Virginia, understand financial aid opportunities available to students with the highest financial need.

William & Mary’s holistic admission application review process also takes into consideration the circumstances and context of individual applicants. For example, a lower-income applicant might not have the financial resources to participate in extensive extracurricular activities.

Wolfe also said that William & Mary’s financial aid office is committed not only to helping students submit federal financial aid application information but also to faster deployment of award notifications so that families will “be able to see how William & Mary can be an affordable opportunity for them.”

W&M also saw an increase to 11 percent in first-generation college students in the new class, compared to 8 percent three years ago.

William & Mary has not seen the same increases in out-of-state Pell-eligible students, in large part because the university cannot currently afford to meet the financial need of out-of-state students in the same way it does in-state students. This is one reason why the For the Bold fundraising campaign’s top priority is scholarship support.

Promoting an economically diverse undergraduate student body is one of the university’s goals. In addition to year-over-year increases in Pell Grant-eligible students, by 2020 William & Mary aims to increase by 50 percent the number of admitted in-state students from families with annual incomes of $60,000 or less.

“Higher education is one pathway to socio-economic mobility,” explained Provost Michael R. Halleran outside the committee meeting. “As a public university, William & Mary has an abiding commitment to serving the entirety of the Commonwealth of Virginia and of expanding opportunities for its citizens. We have made progress, but we must maintain the momentum, remaining focused on improving socio-economic diversity at William & Mary.” As part of these efforts, last spring, the university hosted a major conference, “Higher Education and Social Mobility.”

William & Mary was recognized by the New York Times this year as being among the nation’s leading colleges and universities in commitment to access and affordability for low- and middle-income students, and the No. 1 public university in Virginia. The Times’ report considered the percentage of students qualifying for Pell Grants, graduation rates and the net price for low- and middle-income students. Only 170 schools met the Times’ rankings standards. William & Mary ranked 15th among public colleges and universities and 56th overall.

Since the university in 2013 adopted a new financial model, the W&M Promise, the average net price for Virginia families with need making less than $75,000 has dropped by more than 20 percent. Among Virginia’s public universities, W&M offers the lowest net price for those students.

William & Mary is also the only public university in Virginia to replace all loans with grants for in-state students with annual family incomes under $40,000. The university is currently meeting the entire financial need for Virginia students.